ms-179 - hartmann, hartmann, martins.indd
South American Journal of Herpetology, 6(1), 2011, 35‑42
© 2011 Brazilian Society of Herpetology
Snake road mortality in a protected area in the
Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil
Paulo A. Hartmann1,3, Marilia T. Hartmann1, and Marcio Martins2
1. Universidade Federal da Fronteira Sul, Campus Erechim. Avenida Dom João Hoffman, 313, 99700‑000, Erechim, RS, Brasil.
E‑mail: [email protected]
2. Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, 05508‑090, São Paulo, SP, Brasil.
3. Corresponding author.
Abstract. Roads that cross natural areas may exert negative effects on the local fauna. Among them, the most obvious negative
effect is vehicular run over. For snakes, the risk of roadkill seems to be higher in habitat generalists, locally abundant or highly
mobile species. High snake mortality by roadkill occurs mainly when animals cross roads during terrestrial movements to breeding,
wintering, foraging or summering habitats. We here describe snake road mortality at Núcleo Picinguaba, Parque Estadual da Serra
do Mar, a protected rainforest area located on the northern coast of the State of São Paulo, Brazil. We sampled a 16 km tract of a
paved road from October, 2001 to December, 2002, totalling 5,173 km. We found 60 roadkilled snakes, belonging to 15 species,
representing around 58% of the species recorded for the region. More mobile species seemed to be more vulnerable to road mortal‑
ity than sedentary species. Snake species encountered dead on the road tended to have great mobility, to be active foragers, and to
show plasticity in microhabitat use. Road mortality seemed to coincide with age and sex specific seasonal activities. The higher
number of juveniles found in May could reflect juvenile recruitment, mainly for more active species and for those with greater
dispersion ability. The increased road mortality in October may be a consequence of males searching females during the mating
period. Although the density of roadkilled species in the area is poorly known, the relative low rate of snake mortality we found at
Núcleo Picinguaba, associated with the small length of the highway inside the park and the relatively low traffic volume, indicate
that the actual negative effect of the BR‑101 highway on local snake populations is negligible for the most common and abundant
species. However, given that the Serra do Mar State Park is a type II park in the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories,
measures which result in decrease of snake mortality should be implemented by the park managers.
Keywords. Snakes, Atlantic Forest, Vehicular mortality, Road ecology, Protected area.
Roads are among the most evident environmen‑
tal manmade changes and can cause diverse negative
ecological effects for the fauna (Forman and Alexan‑
der, 1998; Trombulak and Frissell, 2000; Clevenger
et al., 2003; Forman et al., 2003; Andrews and Gib‑
bons, 2005). These effects include habitat loss, habi‑
tat degradation or fragmentation, road avoidance
behaviors and direct wildlife mortality (Andrews,
1990; Bennett, 1991; Forman and Alexander, 1998).
Wildlife populations using areas adjacent to roads
face increased mortality risk due to collisions with
vehicles (Mumme et al., 2000). This form of mor‑
tality can have substantial effects on a population’s
demography (Trombulak and Frissell, 2000), since it
can affect density and demographic structure of wild
populations (Fahrig et al., 1995; Huijser and Bergers,
2000; Gibbs and Steen, 2005).
Vehicle collision is an important source of mortal‑
ity to many species of reptiles (Case, 1978; Berna‑
dino and Dalrymple, 1992; Rosen and Lowe, 1994;
Ashley and Robinson, 1996; Gokula, 1997; Klingen‑
bock et al., 2000; Clevenger et al., 2003; Andrews
and Gibbons, 2005; Richardson et al., 2006). For
snakes, on-road mortality is frequent (Klingenbock
et al., 2000; Koenig et al., 2001; Andrews and Gib‑
bons, 2005; Richardson et al., 2006), and some fac‑
tors seem to increase vulnerability to roadkills. The
risk of roadkill seems to be higher in habitat gen‑
eralists, locally abundant, and more mobile species
(Forman et al., 2003; Jochimsen et al., 2004). In
addition, high snake mortalities occur mainly when
animals cross roads during terrestrial movements to
breeding, wintering or summering habitat (Ashley
and Robinson, 1996; Smith and Dodd, 2003; Aresco
2005). Ecological differences among species, sex and
age classes can reflect in movement patterns (Gibbs,
1998; Semlitsch, 2000; Carr and Fahrig, 2001; Bl‑
ouin-Demers and Weatherhead, 2002; Andrews and
Gibbons, 2005; Steen and Smith, 2006), which in turn
can affect road mortality (Bonnet et al., 1999).
Roads can represent barriers or filters to snake
movements along the landscape (Andrews and Gib‑
bons, 2005). Thus, understanding patterns related to
snake road mortality makes it possible to infer its im‑
pact over populations and eventually to propose ac‑
tions to reduce them. The objective of this study was
to examine snake road mortality at Núcleo Picingua‑
ba, Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar, a protected rain‑
forest area located on the northern coast of the State
of São Paulo, Brazil. We documented the diversity
Snake road mortality in the Atlantic Forest
of species affected by road mortality, explored dif‑
ferences in road mortality relative to assemblage di‑
versity, seasons and ecological traits of the species,
and discuss the importance of roadkills on local snake
Material and Methods
The study was carried out at Núcleo Picinguaba
(47,000 ha), a portion of the Parque Estadual da Serra
do Mar (315,000 ha), located on the northern coast
of the State of São Paulo (SP), southeastern Brazil
(23°23’S, 44°50’W). Snake roadkill searches were
conducted along a 16 km stretch of the BR‑101 high‑
way which crosses the park near the coast (Fig. 1).
The Núcleo Picinguaba area is dominated by escarp‑
ments that reach the sea in the bay of Picinguaba. The
sampled area encompasses the following vegetation
types: dense rainforest, restinga forest (rainforest on
coastal sandy soils) and transitional vegetation be‑
tween dense rainforest and restinga forest (Rizzini,
1973). The climate is tropical-wet (Köeppen, 1948).
The Núcleo Picinguaba covers an area of coastal
zone, seasonally controlled by equatorial and tropical
weather systems, under the influence of the Tropical
Atlantic air mass. Mean monthly rainfall is generally
above 200 mm from October to April and between 80
and 160 mm from May to September. Highest pre‑
cipitation occurs from December to March (about
380 mm/month). Mean relative humidity above 85%
throughout the year. Mean annual temperature is
21.9°C. Lower temperatures occur in the drier sea‑
son, resulting in a rainier/warmer season from Octo‑
ber to April and a drier/colder season from May to
September. Climatic data were obtained from the In‑
stituto Nacional de Metereologia, for the meteorolog‑
ical station of the Instituto Agronômico de Campinas,
at Ubatuba (SP) (23°27’S, 45°04’W), located about
60 km from our study area.
Data on roadkills were obtained by regular road
sampling, through the help of local people, and also
by accidental encounters. During regular road sam‑
plings, we drove slowly, about 30‑40 km/h, searching
for snake roadkills. Every sampling day we covered
a 16 km tract of the highway that crosses the park, in
both directions. Additionally we drove through sec‑
ondary, unpaved roads that cross the park. Search for
roadkills was always made by two people. Samplings
were made from 16:00 to 19:00 h. We performed
regular road samplings during 9 to 12 days per month.
From October 2001 to December 2002, we drove
about 300 to 415 km each month, totaling 5,173 km
during 15 months.
To get information from local people about snakes
found dead on road, we distributed four 20 L contain‑
ers with 15% formaldehyde at the headquarters of the
Núcleo Picinguaba and to the neighboring villagers to
deposit snakes roadkills. Cards were also given to the
villagers in order to record information such as time
and site of collection.
Roadkills found by us during activities that were
not part of the regular sampling sessions were consid‑
ered as accidental encounters.
When specimen conditions allowed, snakes were
fixed and housed in the collection of the Instituto Bu‑
tantan (IB). We used the following categories in rela‑
tion to microhabitat use by the snakes: fossorial, ter‑
restrial, arboreal, and aquatic (e.g. Duellman, 1989).
Snakes which use both the ground and the vegetation
while active were considered as semi-arboreals. The
activity period and substrate use were characterized
using published data for the Atlantic Forest (see Saz‑
ima and Haddad, 1992; Marques, 1998; Marques and
Sazima, 2004; Marques et al., 2004; Hartmann et al.,
2009). The taxonomy at the level of subfamily and
family used herein follows Zaher et al. (2009).
To explore the importance of roadkills on local
snake populations, we estimated a relative road mor‑
tality (RRM) for each species by dividing the number
of roadkills by the number of individuals found in a
parallel study of the snake fauna (Hartmann et al.,
2009). Species found dead on road but rare (N ≤ 2)
at Hartmann et al. (2009) were excluded of the RRM
analyses. We also calculated a road mortality rate as
the number of roadkills per kilometer per year, for
year 2002. To detect possible differences between
juveniles and adults, sexual maturity was assessed
through the examination of gonads (see Hartmann
et al., 2009). The snout-vent length of the smallest
mature male and smallest mature female of each spe‑
cies was used to differentiate immature from adult
individuals (see criteria in Shine, 1977, and Marques,
A total of 60 roadkilled snakes were obtained
during this study, belonging to 15 species, represent‑
ing around 58% of the species recorded for the re‑
gion (Table 1). Out of the 60 snakes (all found in the
Hartmann, P. A. et al.
paved road), 46 were found by sampling by car, nine
by accidental encounters and five by local collectors.
The number of individuals found as roadkills was
positively correlated with their abundance in the area
obtained in a parallel study (rs = 0.744, p < 0.05; Ta‑
ble 1). The four most common species in roadkills in
the study area (N ≥ 5, Table 1), were common (19‑29
individuals) or of intermediate abundance (3‑18 indi‑
viduals), in the study of Hartmann et al. (2009). To‑
gether, these species represent more than half of the
roadkills (N = 32). However, the dominant species in
the assemblage (Bothropoides jararaca and Bothrops
jararacussu, with abundances of 71 and 47 individu‑
als, respectively) in the study of Hartmann et al.
Figure 1. Map of the study area with the sampled road (BR‑101 highway), Núcleo Picinguaba, Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar, south‑
Snake road mortality in the Atlantic Forest
Table 1. Diversity and number of snake roadkills at Núcleo Picinguaba, Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar, southeastern Brazil, from Oc‑
tober 2001 to December 2002. Numbers in parentheses indicate the relative rod mortality (RRM). In italics the most roadkilled species
(N ≥ 05), with higher road mortality rate (for year 2002), or with high relative road mortality (RRM ≥ 0.50). Note that Bothropoides jara‑
raca and Bothrops jararacussu were dominant in the assemblage (N ≥ 30), but with low number of roadkills. Ar, arboreal; Aq, aquatic; Fo,
fossorial; Sa, semi-arboreal; Te, terrestrial.
Chironius exoletus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Chironius bicarinatus (Wied, 1820)
Oxyrhopus clathratus Duméril, Bribon and Duméril, 1854
Chironius fuscus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Chironius laevicollis (Wied, 1824)
Spilotes pullatus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Philodryas olfersii (Lichtenstein, 1823)
Chironius foveatus (Bailey, 1955)
Liophis miliaris (Linnaeus, 1758)
Bothropoides jararaca (Wied,1824)
Bothrops jararacussu Lacerda, 1884
Micrurus corallinus (Merren, 1820)
Clelia plumbea (Wied, 1820)
Sibynomorphus neuwiedi (Ihering, 1911)
Thamnodynastes cf. nattereri Mikan, 1828
Imantodes cenchoa (Linnaeus, 1758)
Taeniophallus affinis (Günther, 1858)
Echinanthera cephalostriata (Di-Bernardo, 1996)
Dipsas indica Laurenti, 1768
Taeniophallus bilineatus (Fischer, 1885)
Xenodon neuwiedii Günther, 1863
Helicops carinicaudus (Wied, 1825)
Uromacerina ricardinii (Peracca, 1897)
Echinanthera undulata (Wied, 1824)1
Siphlophis pulcher (Raddi, 1820)2
Number of snakes
Number of species
Road mortality rate
(1) Species found after the fieldwork.
(2) Species not found in this study, but with confirmed occurrence in the region (see Marques et al., 2001).
(2009) were rarely found dead on the road (three
roadkills in each species; Table 1). From January to
December 2002, we found 44 individual snakes dead
on the paved road which cross the Núcleo Picinguaba,
in 116 days of regular road sampling. Based on this
number, we estimated a loss of about 140 snakes per
year. Considering the length of the highway inside the
park, the rate of snake mortality was 8.6 snakes/km/
Adults were more frequently found as roadkills
(N = 45) than juveniles (N = 13). For two individu‑
als, it was not possible to determine maturity stage.
Males were more frequently found as roadkills
(N = 30) than females (N = 18). For 12 individuals,
it was not possible to determine the sex. Out of the
15 species found dead on road, 12 show terrestrial or
semi-arboreal habits (Table 1). The relative road mor‑
tality was high (RRM ≥ 0.5) in four species: Philo‑
dryas olfersii, Chironius exoletus, C. bicarinatus and
Oxyrhopus clathratus (Table 1). The species found
more frequently as roadkills, with higher road mor‑
tality rate, and/or those with higher RRM were terres‑
trial or semi-arboreal (Table 1). Strictly arboreal and
fossorial species were less often found as roadkills in
the overall sample. In addition, the ambush-foraging
and most sedentary species were less often found as
roadkills (Table 1).
There was no difference in the frequency of road‑
kills among seasons (one snake at every 101 km dur‑
ing the raining season and one snake at every 111 km
during the dry season (c2 = 1.4, DF = 1, p = 0.26).
However, there seems to be two peaks: (1) in April
Hartmann, P. A. et al.
Figure 2. Number of adult (N = 33, black columns) and juvenile
snake roadkills (N = 11, white columns) from January to Decem‑
ber 2002 at Núcleo Picinguaba, Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar,
Figure 3. Number of male (N = 22, black columns) and female
snake roadkills (N = 14, white columns) from January to Decem‑
ber 2002 at Núcleo Picinguaba, Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar,
and May, when 15 snakes were found, with four ju‑
veniles in May (Fig. 2); and (2) between August and
October, when 13 snakes were found, with a higher
number of males (N = 10, Fig. 3).
In general, road mortality is concentrated on one
or few species, usually habitat generalists, locally
abundant, highly mobile, and/or attracted by the re‑
sources or favorable environmental characteristics
of roads (Forman et al., 2003). Although more than
half of the species registered for the region are sub‑
ject to vehicular mortality, this was more frequent in
four species. These species are active foragers, all
show plasticity in the use of microhabitats and, more
importantly, they are highly mobile. Thus, the main
determinant factor of road mortality risk at our study
area seems to be snake mobility.
The semi-arboreal Philodryas olfersii and species
of Chironius (mainly C. bicarinatus and C. exoletus)
are slender, agile species which move quickly in for‑
ests or open areas (Dixon et al., 1993; Marques and
Sazima, 2004; Hartmann and Marques, 2005; Hart‑
mann et al., 2009). Oxyrhopus clathratus is a terres‑
trial species (Marques and Sazima, 2004), which may
explore altered areas and has high capacity for mov‑
ing among areas (Hartmann et al., 2009). For species
with high plasticity in microhabitat use and more
mobile, the BR‑101 road was not a significant bar‑
rier for displacement. However, for species which are
exclusively arboreal or fossorial, the road may repre‑
sent an actual barrier, preventing movements between
forests located in each side of the road. Irrespective
of the preferential habitat use, roads may interfere in
the patterns of snake mobility (Row et al., 2007), no
matter if it leads to death or if it limits the living area.
The two ambush and nocturnal foragers (Bothro‑
poides jararaca and Bothrops jararacussu, Sazima,
1992; Marques and Sazima, 2004), although domi‑
nant in the assemblage (Hartmann et al., 2009), were
rarely found dead on the roads. Lower mobility and
activity mainly at night, when the traffic volume is
smaller, can lead to lower exposition to vehicular
mortality (Bonnet et al., 1999). On the other hand,
sampling in the afternoon can result in lower detec‑
tion of nocturnal species. Scavengers may have more
time to remove snakes dead during the night, whereas
diurnal snakes remain less time dead on the road.
Coelho et al. (2008), working in another area at
the Atlantic Forest, found the primarily nocturnal
viper Rhinocerophis alternatus as the most frequent
species dead on road. However, the road sampled
by these authors presents heavy nighttime traffic,
what may explain the high number of roadkills of
a primarily nocturnal species. As in other studies in
Brazil (see Coelho et al., 2008, Prada, 2004; Kunz
e Ghizoni-Jr., 2009; Turci and Bernarde, 2009), we
found mainly larger or middle-sized snakes dead on
road. This seems to be a common result in studies that
use vehicular surveys as the main method (Enge and
Wood, 2002; Coleman et al., 2008; Taylor and Gold‑
ingay, 2004), indicating that vehicular surveys may
provide biased results towards large snakes.
Snake road mortality may be correlated with traf‑
fic volume (Bernardino and Dalrymple, 1992) if the
greatest snake activity occurs in periods of high ve‑
hicle traffic. The sampled road in this study had a
relatively low traffic volume (< 1000 vehicles/day),
characterized mainly by the traffic of local people
from small communities around the Park. The traffic
Snake road mortality in the Atlantic Forest
volume in the study area is relatively homogenous
during the year, although it increases in summer, or
on holiday eves (information obtained in the Federal
Highway Police station near the park). Although this
variation occurs, we failed to find higher numbers of
snake roadkills in the periods of higher vehicle traffic.
As ectotherms, snakes are strongly influenced
by environmental conditions (Lillywhite, 1987; Zug
et al., 2001). Mainly during colder temperatures,
snakes can reduce their activity (Gibbons and Sem‑
litsch, 1987), with lower exposition to road mortality.
However, temperatures low enough to limit snake ac‑
tivity do not occur in our study area (Hartmann et al.,
2009). On the other hand, there may be times when
some species are more active (i.e., move more), what
would result in an increase in the rate of road mortal‑
ity (Jochimsen, 2005). For instance, snakes may be
more susceptible to road mortality during post-natal
dispersal, migration, and mate search (Marques et al.,
2000; Jochimsen, 2005; Shepard et al., 2008). Thus,
sex and age classes may differ in their succeptibility
to road mortality at some periods of the year (Case,
1978; Brown et al., 1986; Gibbs, 1998; Semlitsch,
2000; Carr and Fahrig, 2001; Andrews and Gibbons,
2005; Steen and Smith, 2006). This seems to be the
case for the two periods of the year when we found
higher numbers of roadkills. The high number of
roadkills in May could reflect juvenile recruitment,
mainly of more active and mobile species (Chironius
bicarinatus and C. laevicollis). On the other hand, the
high number of roadkills in October may be due to
mate searching by males, especially in Chironius exo‑
letus. In situations of extremely high road mortality, a
population could decline as a result of biased removal
of adult males (Jochimsen, 2005). However, given
the low rate of roadkills observed during this study,
this seems not to be the case of the snake populations
which inhabit our study area.
An increase of the tourism, which seems to be oc‑
curring in the region, may lead to an increased traffic
volume. As a consequence, the rate of snake mortal‑
ity in the region may increase in the future, since the
number of roadkills may be related to traffic volume
(Rosen and Lowe, 1994; Drews, 1995). Our mortal‑
ity estimate (8.6 snakes/km/yr) is smaller than those
found in other studies: 12.8 snakes/km/yr in Florida
(Enge and Wood, 2002), 22.5 snakes/km/yr in Ari‑
zona (Rosen and Lowe, 1994) and 48.6 snakes/km/yr
in Poland (Borczik, 2004), but higher to that found by
Jochimsen (2005) in Idaho (2.8 snakes/km/yr). How‑
ever, these numbers could be underestimates because
some snakes are presumably too small to be detected
or are removed from the road by scavengers before
detection (Rosen and Lowe, 1994).
Even low road mortality rates can reduce snake
populations, because local populations may have al‑
ready been depressed from decades of cumulative
roadkills (Enge and Wood, 2002; Clevenger et al.,
2003). Snake mortality in roads, associated with frag‑
mentation effects, can result in population declines,
inbreeding, and local extinctions (Forman et al. 2003;
Row et al., 2007). However, the relative low rate of
snake mortality we found at Núcleo Picinguaba (8.6
snakes/km/yr), associated with the small length of the
highway inside the park and the relatively low traffic
volume, indicate that the actual negative effect of the
BR‑101 highway on local snake populations is neg‑
ligible for the most common and abundant species.
However, given that the Serra do Mar State Park is a
type II park in the IUCN Protected Area Management
Categories (Dudley, 2008), and thus was “set aside to
protect large-scale ecological processes, along with
the complement of species and ecosystems character‑
istic of the area”, measures which result in decrease
of snake (and other animals) mortality (e. g., wild‑
life passages) should be implemented by the park
Rodovias que cruzam áreas naturais podem acar‑
retar diversos efeitos negativos sobre a fauna local. O
mais óbvio destes efeitos é a morte por atropelamen‑
to. Para serpentes, o risco de atropelamentos parece
ser maior nas espécies que apresentam hábitos gene‑
ralistas, localmente abundantes ou altamente móveis.
Altas taxas de atropelamentos podem ocorrer quando
os animais cruzam a rodovia durante movimentos
para forrageamento, acasalamento, reprodução ou
migração. Neste estudo descrevemos a mortalidade
de serpentes por atropelamentos na rodovia BR‑101,
na altura do Núcleo Picinguaba do Parque Estadual
da Serra do Mar, uma área protegida localizada no
litoral norte do estado de São Paulo. Para tal foram
amostrados os 16 km da rodovia que cortam o Nú‑
cleo, de outubro de 2001 a dezembro de 2002, tota‑
lizando 5173 km. Neste período foram encontradas
60 serpentes atropeladas, pertencendo a 15 espécies
e representando 58% da riqueza de serpentes registra‑
da para região. Os atropelamentos parecem coincidir
com o estágio de vida e com as atividades sazonais de
cada sexo. O maior número de filhotes em maio pode
ser reflexo do recrutamento, principalmente para as
Hartmann, P. A. et al.
espécies mais ativas e que apresentam grande mobili‑
dade. O aumento de atropelamentos em outubro pode
ser consequência da procura de fêmeas pelos machos
durante a época de acasalamento. Embora a densida‑
de populacional das espécies de serpentes atropeladas
na área seja pouco conhecida, a taxa de atropelamen‑
tos relativamente baixa encontrada, associada com o
pequeno comprimento da rodovia dentro dos limites
do Núcleo Picinguaba, indicam que os efeitos nega‑
tivos atuais da BR‑101 sobre as populações locais de
serpentes são pouco relevantes para as espécies mais
comuns e abundantes. Entretanto, como o Parque
Estadual da Serra do Mar é uma Unidade de Con‑
servação de Proteção Integral, medidas que resultem
em um decréscimo na mortalidade de serpentes (e. g.,
passagens de fauna), devem ser implementadas pelos
gestores do parque.
We are grateful to Instituto Florestal from São Paulo state,
especially Eliane Simões and Fernanda Wadt, for permission to
work at Núcleo Picinguaba do Parque Estadual da Serra do Mar
and for providing logistical support. We thank Instituto Brasileiro
do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IB‑
AMA) for the permit to collect specimens (02027.010399/01‑46).
Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable suggestions on an
earlier draft of the manuscript. Valuable help in fieldwork was
provided by Luis O. M. Giasson. Most of the fieldwork was fund‑
ed by Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo
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Submitted 14 June 2010
Accepted 14 March 2011